August 28, 2016
As summer turns to fall and the general election campaign kicks into full gear, one thing is becoming increasingly clear; this is going to be an ugly, nasty election. Every four years everyone seems to run around complaining about how that year’s race is the dirtiest and nastiest campaign ever, and every four years they’re wrong. The fact is presidential campaigns have always been nasty affairs. However, given that, when challenged about their candidate, the first words out of the mouths of Clinton surrogates are “Donald Trump,” and vice versa, this does actually appear to be a particularly nasty cycle. Supporters of both campaigns have abandoned all pretense of even attempting to defend their candidates in favor of constant attacks on their opponent, likely due to the fact that both major party candidates are indefensible. The main theme of both campaigns seems to be that you should vote for me because the other one is worse. As I think the polls at this point will support, this type of campaigning is a sound strategy for Hillary Clinton, but it will not work for Donald Trump.
Traditionally, the goal of negative campaigning is to tear down your opponent. You want to make it so that the voters don’t like your opponent, don’t trust your opponent, and don’t want your opponent to be president. This is why it’s so difficult to see what Donald Trump hopes to accomplish by attacking Clinton. The goals of a negative campaign have already been achieved by virtue of Hillary Clinton being Hillary Clinton. The American people already don’t like her, don’t trust her, and don’t want her to be president. Furthermore, Hillary has been around so long and is so familiar to the American people that it will be difficult to move the needle on her. The voters know her and they know what they think of her. Hillary Clinton isn’t running away with this election because the American people love her. She’s running away with it because while they don’t like her, they are straight-up scared of Donald Trump.
This is the main challenge the Trump campaign faces, and where they need to focus their efforts in the coming weeks. Hillary Clinton’s negatives will take care of themselves and the case against her will be highlighted by a scandal and controversy loving media. What Trump needs to do is focus on his side of the equation. He needs to reassure the voters who don’t want Hillary to be president that he is a feasible alternative, and that it’s safe to choose him. He can start by avoiding picking a pointless, unnecessary fight every other day and staying away from intentionally provocative and offensive statements. Donald Trump has spent so much of the campaign scaring the majority of Americans off with outlandish statements that most of Hillary Clinton’s campaign commercials are nothing more than thirty seconds of Donald Trump soundbites. He’s been playing a character for most of his life. Now that character has to be one that the American people can see as president.
The opposite is true for the Clinton campaign. In the same way that Hillary’s long and illustrious career makes it difficult for Trump to increase her negatives, it makes it difficult for her to increase her positives. There is simply nothing that Clinton can do in the middle of a presidential campaign that will make the voters trust her or like her more. This is tough enough for most candidates. For one with almost a quarter century in the public eye, it is impossible. The good news for Hillary is that, since people know her so well, while they may not like the idea of her as president, since she has been in power in one form or another for so long, she is seen as the safe and stable choice. The really good news for Hillary is that she’s running against Donald Trump, who is seen as anything but safe or stable. Right now, she’s ahead in the polls because people are too scared of the alternative to vote against her. To win, she has to keep it that way. Fortunately for her, Donald Trump has given her plenty of material to work with.